Erin O’Toole cast himself as an agent of change for a Conservative Party seeking a path back to government as he launched his first election campaign as Leader.
“I am a new leader with a new style,” Mr. O’Toole told a news conference in Ottawa shortly after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced an election to be held on Sept. 20.
Since becoming Conservative Leader in August, 2020, Mr. O’Toole has taken a more moderate approach than his predecessor, with a plan to price carbon, a declaration of being pro-choice and showing solidarity with the LGBTQ community that, on Sunday, included a video posted to social media supporting the Montreal Pride March.
Mr. O’Toole touted his five-point “Recovery Plan” package of commitments that he plans to promote on the campaign trail. It includes a national mental-health plan, balancing the budget in a decade, instead of a more rushed approach, and creating one million jobs.
He also positioned his party as a fiscally prudent alternative to the Liberals, denouncing their government as “entitled” and borrowing $424-million a day, en route to racking up debt that’s now more than $1-trillion and that Mr. Trudeau is “going to ask you and your children to pay back.”
“There are five parties but two choices. Canada’s Conservatives or more of the same,” Mr. O’Toole told a news conference held in a studio at a downtown hotel.
At a party policy convention in March, Mr. O’Toole said change was key to the party getting ahead. The Conservatives need the “courage to change” in such ways as embracing climate change to connect with voters, he said at the time. Despite that, party members voted against including the phrase “climate change is real” in party material.
As the campaign began, Mr. O’Toole and the Tories also unveiled another tool key to their campaign. Although Mr. O’Toole will travel the country, the Tories will also rely on the use of a studio set in a downtown Ottawa hotel to execute programming and media events featuring the Conservative Leader.
Mr. O’Toole was scheduled to do town halls via telephone for Quebec and British Columbia.
“Using some of the innovations we’ve learned over the last year, I will be speaking to thousands of Canadians directly in Quebec, in British Columbia,” he said.
After launching his campaign, Mr. O’Toole faced immediate questions about why he won’t require Conservative candidates to get COVID-19 vaccines. Mr. O’Toole repeatedly noted that he and his wife publicized their vaccinations, and encouraged all Canadians to get vaccinated. He also said there can be “reasonable accommodations” around the issue using masking, rapid testing and screening.
“I can assure you the Conservative Party – all of our team members, all of our candidates – will be working hard to try and work with public-health leaders to follow health advice and to keep Canadians safe.”
There were also questions about a video clip that put Mr. Trudeau’s face on the body of a character from the 1971 feature film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to suggest the Liberal Leader is only interested in an election to secure a majority.
The move was denounced by some Conservative MPs. Blaine Calkins, who has represented the Alberta riding of Red Deer-Lacombe since 2015, called the video “tasteless and appalling.” Scott Aitchison, the incumbent MP for Parry Sound-Muskoka, tweeted that the video is “dumb,” but added, “Sadly they don’t ask me my opinion on these things.”
Mr. O’Toole did not directly answer a question on whether it is a setback to have caucus members criticize the video on the eve of an election, but instead said, “Conservatives are united,” without elaborating.
At dissolution, the Conservatives had 119 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.
Dennis Matthews, who worked in advertising and communications for former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, said Mr. O’Toole has a lot of work to do in a very short time, to become part of the conversation among voters.
“The campaign is going to give him a very quick and high-profile opportunity to do that and so he’s got to accept that he’s starting at zero with a lot of voters, who don’t know anything about him,” said Mr. Matthews, head of the Creative Currency advertising agency.
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